Tag Archives: Grove Park

Following the Quaggy – Chinbrook Meadows to Eltham Bridge

In previous posts, Running Past has followed the Quaggy from its sources around Locksbottom and then on through Petts Wood, the Hawkwood Estate, Chislehurst and Bickley and through the golf courses of Sundridge Park and on to Chinbrook Meadows.

We left the Quaggy in a concrete channel coming out of Chinbrook Meadows.  A small weir lowers the level of the river bed as it exits the park, it is not to provide a more natural bed though, the notched river bed gives way to a flat one but it is still concrete – attempting to quickly move the water on, as was de-rigour in the 1960s.  The river isn’t completely barren at this point – some small plants are clinging onto an existence but struggling to put down any roots.

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It is in a clear valley as it crosses Chinbrook Road, with climbs up to both Grove Park Station and the Grove Park and Chinbrook housing estates (both covered by the excellent Municipal Dreams blog).  But that is about as natural as it gets – while the shape of the banks and the bed change the concrete seems to remain as the Green Chain Path follows its eastern bank, it is a path that it marked on early Ordnance Survey maps (on a Creative Commons from the National Library of Scotland)

 

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The path emerges out onto what used to be called Claypit Lane but is now called Marvels Lane.  The road is bridged and heads towards the entrance to some playing fields – this isn’t how it has always been though.  As the Ordnance Survey map above from the 1890s shows, there used to be a small pool and a distinct meander at this point – taking  the Quaggy in front of the former agricultural workers cottages – Sydenham Cottages (below) – presumably for Claypit Farm (just off map, although no longer marked by the 1890s).

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There was serious flooding there – notably in 1968 – which seems to have led the channelisation and straightening of the river.  The Quaggy encased in concrete is now more or less devoid of life at this point.  Its former meander is now the Sydenham Cottages nature reserve which despite its river bank location has almost no trace of wetland habitat remaining.

The straight channel is slightly disturbed opposite the nature reserve with a concrete access ramp (see above left photograph) – this has led to some fluvial deposits in the slowest moving bits of the river.  Plants have colonised the sediments, but it is a precarious existence, without deep roots, they could be lost to the next high flow.

Opposite the nature reserve, and clearly visible from it is the outflow, just above the river level, one of the tributary streams joins the Quaggy, Grove Park Ditch – which rises in Marvels Wood and has an attractive 400 metres through woodland and park edge before being forcibly submerged around the edge of the Chinbrook Estate and then the playing fields of the former Fairy Hall – which gave its name to another stream in the Quaggy catchment, Fairy Hall Flow.

The river is followed by the Green Chain Path for another hundred metres or so before the path veers off to the right towards Mottingham Lane and the last home of WG Grace.  For those following the river as a walk this is the way to head and then re-join the Quaggy near at the junction with Winns Avenue.

For most of the 20th Century the former over spill Greenwich Union Workhouse, Grove Park Hospital, dominated the area – its land went up to the banks of the Quaggy – the slight valley is clear from the postcard below (source eBay November 2016).

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The location both as a workhouse and in its early days as a hospital, led to its under use as it away from the urban area.  It spent time as a military barracks and hospital during World War 1 ( see post card below – eBay May 2016) but was a TB and chest hospital for most of its ‘life’, although latterly became a mental health institution – the development of care in the community and associated hospital closure programme meant that its days were numbered.  It closed in 1994 and is now a mixture of a private health club and housing.

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There used to be a second meander, in what were the grounds of Grove Park Hospital but that too was removed presumably at the same time as that of Sydenham Cottages.  The meander is easy to see on the ground, next to the former hospital is a private leisure centre through whose ground there is access to a scrubby field that gently slopes down to the river, the path to it, which traverses a broken down bit of chain link fencing, is easy to miss though.  The former meander is a jungle of brambles which proved something of an obstacle to the bare-legged urban explorer.  A little further along the path that loops around the unkempt grass, the Quaggy is reachable and seems almost back to its semi-rural state last seen on Tong Farm, several miles back upstream.  It is but a brief interlude though – the Wates developed houses on the former Melrose Farm soon appear on the western bank and the river is left to flow behind the gardens of Westdene Avenue and Jevington Way.

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On the eastern bank is Hadlow College, which was once the site of a large Victorian house, Mottingham Hall.  For a while, the site was the Macintyre Nature Reserve – part of an organisation that provided support for people with mental health disabilities, it then became an outpost of Phoebes Garden Centre, before being taking on by Hadlow College.  Contours would suggest that there may have been at least one stream joining the Quaggy in this area.

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The Quaggy emerges into the public gaze by the side of the entrance to the College, still with natural banks, although one is lost as it hugs the side of Mottingham Lane before flowing through a shiny new screen to prevent blockages in a section under the Lane.  The opposite side of the road is then meandered against, with the fields of Mottingham Riding School on the other side, before a confluence with one of the Quaggy’s larger tributaries, the Little Quaggy close to the Sidcup by-pass (below, right.)

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In several Facebook threads there are memories of playing in the river in this area, catching sticklebacks and taking them home in jam jars, going through the underground sections of the river both under Mottingham Lane and the braver ones under the A20. Others used to play ‘Quaggy jumping’ in this area near the now closed Dutch House pub. ‘It was always a triumph when you reached the other side without getting wet shoes, good days.’

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Any feelings of ‘rus in urbe’ are soon lost after crossing the A20, while edged by grass and trees on initially scrubland and then a series of sports grounds, the concrete bed and banks return in their bleakest form anywhere on the river, any remaining sticklebacks would be hard pressed to find food.  The concrete course is almost as straight as a Roman road as it bypasses playing fields including the new home of Greenwich Borough FC, whose previous permanent ground, Harrow Meadow, adjacent to the Quaggy in Sutcliffe Park was lost to developers in 2009 – and they had a nomadic existence for a few years.  On the opposite bank, until the early 1930s, would have been the Middle Park Farm – like Horn Park Farm it was originally site one of the Eltham Palace’s hunting parks.

The river then squeezes between back gardens and is bridged the South Circular – on the south side it is shielded by a wall of a height that makes visibility of the flow impossible; on the northern side while the parapet was lower the overhanging shrub on both sides of the river meant that the flow was still invisible. It emerges back into the open at Eltham Bridge.  This is an area that is still subject to flooding – over 20 houses were flooded around Christmas 2013.  Before leaving the Quaggy there for another day a stop at the Bridge is worth making; it has an old London County Council sign with a wide variety of rules relating to bridges it controlled up until 1965.  Mooring a vessel at Eltham Bridge would be quite challenging though …..

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Beyond a Boundary – Border Ditch, a Quaggy Tributary

Border Ditch is one of the smaller tributaries of the Quaggy – it rises in playing fields on the edge of the Downham estate, very close to a natural boundary – the watershed that marks the divide between the Quaggy and Ravensbourne catchments. Its name comes from a different boundary though – for some of its recent life it was a small part of the border between Lee, then Lewisham, and Bromley.  In addition, it would mark the limit of London until 1965 when Bromley was prised out of Kent and brought into the metropolis (although the distinctions had become a little blurred from the 1840s as the Bromley was included in the area covered by the Metropolitan Police).

While the contour lines on the map for the early part of the Ditch are clear, they would suggest a route from around the middle of the playing field then following a line slightly to the south of Welbeck Avenue to Burnt Ash Lane.  However, the boundary which predated development, and the playing fields, is slightly to the north of this, suggesting that the course may have been adjusted when the land was farmed.  There was no access to the school playing fields, so any further investigation proved impossible.  The current course seems to follow a now overgrown access road to garages and then a very clear dip in Burnt Ash Lane.

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There used to be a small bridge at this point which was captured on film around the time of the First World War, before the advance of suburbia and the Downham estate in the 1920s (source Lewisham Archives on a Creative Commons).

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The stream is no longer visible (or even audible) at this point but there is a clear valley as it squeezes between the gardens of Ridgeway Close on the Bromley side and Wydeville Manor Road on the Lewisham side.  There are tracks down to garages at the rear on the Bromley side, but as ‘danger reared its ugly head’ – with a dog starting to bark as I attempted to investigate – the urban explorer ‘turned and fled’ in the manner of Brave Sir Robin.

Fortunately, there was a dog-free access point on the Lewisham side and squeezing between some broken railings a view of the newly emergent Border Ditch was possible.  There is a noticeable valley although during a relatively dry early autumn relatively little water. From this point, it is likely that the Ditch continued downhill until it met the Quaggy; it isn’t possible to be certain though as the imposing railway embankment obliterated contour lines past.

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Railway engineers appear to have taken the Ditch on a slightly more circuitous journey in creating a new confluence with the Quaggy. The course they chose for it would have seen the Ditch empty into the Quaggy close to the bridge in the southern part of Chinbrook Meadows – source Creative Commons.

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While the line to Bromley North was later added, the course doesn’t seem to have altered – source Creative Commons, National Library of Scotland.

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The stream seems to have been slightly moved north east at a later date to hug the edge of the embankment and emptying into the Quaggy just after the latter enters the tunnel under the main line.

The re-emergence into the open  is a rather desultory one, exiting from its concrete casing into what was more reminiscent of a drain than a stream.  There was little sign of movement in the ominous looking muddy water.  It wasn’t even easy to see, hidden behind stout metal Network Rail fencing preventing any ne’er do wells having access to the embankment from the south westerly part of Chinbrook Meadows.

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The emergent Ditch trickles slightly downhill for almost a hundred metres towards its final destination – its confluence with the Quaggy.  The coming together of the flows is rather lacking in distinction too, there is a twist to force the Ditch down and almost back upon itself to meet the Quaggy with the all the force of a tap with low water pressure.  My failed attempts to photograph the junction were even less impressive than the reality.

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The good news is that there are plans afoot to try to make the last few metres of the ‘Ditch’ slightly more alluring, while the aesthetics will be improved considerably, the real reason is to install a sustainable drainage system (SuDS) which would enable water to run through a series of pools planted with native marshland plants that will naturally filter the water reducing the potential pollution impact of the ‘Ditch.’  I am no expert on gauging water quality by sight, but it didn’t look good.

While Border Ditch isn’t currently worth much of a trek, Chinbrook Meadows is a different matter, it is a lovely park – one of my Lewisham favourites.  It was the site of a small dairy farm, Chinbrook Farm – the park first opening in 1929 and being considerably extended eight years later.  The Quaggy was channelised early in the ‘Meadow’s’ existence and, from memory, large fences and hedges partially hid the river (they still do on its exit).  The river was freed into a more natural gently meandering course with more natural planting and access after works that were completed in 2002.

© Derek Harper, Creative Commons

If you recognise some of the latter photos and text, that would not be surprising, I have previously attributed them to a different stream – one I referred to as Grove Park Ditch (West).  Border Ditch is referred to as that, without the locational suffix, by the Environment Agency. However, having spent an age following flows and contours on old OS Maps I am now pretty certain that the outflow is that of Border Ditch, I am in pretty good company here – my view is shared by the sadly departed fellow fluvial flâneur, Ken White.

The area is no stranger to artificial boundaries – around quarter of a mile away from the source of Border Ditch there was the infamous wall of Alexandra Crescent.  It was built by the developer of a private road in 1926 to prevent those on the Downham Estate being able to walk through the new middle class housing towards Bromley.  It never had planning permission, but the over two metre boundary, topped with broken glass was to last until 1950. (More information & picture source)

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The Ordnance Survey note boundary markers both within the Chinbrook Meadows and at the bottom of Oakbrook Close.  They seem to no longer exist – I certainly couldn’t find them and they haven’t been spotted by a follower of the blog who is tracker of boundary markers – the earliest maps note they were on trees though so even if the trees are still there the marks probably won’t be – however, nowhere did I see any arboreal girth approaching 200 year years (a substantial tree in 1860 plus the intervening time period)…

Back to the Border Ditch, it is no longer the border for much its last few metres, the Local Government Boundary Commission agreed to requests from both Bromley and Lewisham to shift the boundary to the far side  of the railway in 1991.  The dashed line is the ‘new’ boundary; the non-dashed one the pre-1991 boundary.  So it seems that the watershed is probably the only definitely fixed boundary – boroughs and counties are man-made constructs and as we have seen even streams change course, in this case diverted at least.

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The Stream with No Name – A Tributary of the Quaggy

Sometimes making sense of watercourses after the urban area has encroached upon them is not that straightforward, developers and railway engineers can confuse apparent flows in a way that make deciphering  a stream’s courses a little tricky. This is one such example.

This is a stream that fooled me – I had originally thought that this stream had gained length when suburbanisation arrived and had been taken on a geographically plausible, although unlikely, detour around the edge of two railway embankments to join the Quaggy in Chinbrook Meadows.  There was even the sound of subterranean running water just to confuse matters – it was probably just a drain …..

The source of my of confusion had been the Environment Agency referring to the outflow in Chinbrook Meadows as Grove Park Ditch, whereas the real Grove Park Ditch is, entirely separate, and, a few hundred metres to the east.  It was only when I started tracing Border Ditch that I realised their, and my, error.

Anyway, back to this small, unnamed stream …..

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Its source seems to have been a pond, or the ground just above it, at the junction of what is now Leamington Avenue and Portland Road – the little bit of blue on the Ordnance Survey map published in 1898.  The stream’s route is clear from the Environment Agency Flood Risk maps, when the surface water option is selected – it is the thin blue line to the bottom right of the map.

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The course is probably no more than 200 metres long, the upstream pointing contour lines of the modern 1:25,000 OS map show it heading from its original source (the left hand picture above), towards the Quaggy’s original course – behind Leamington Avenue, roughly following a now largely overgrown track to garages behind the houses (middle picture), then crossing Leamington Close, still under a track to garages (right hand photo above), to join the Quaggy behind where Oak Tree Gardens are now situated.

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The Quaggy too was diverted underground in this area when the houses were built, there is a clear dip in Leamington Avenue (top photo immediately above) and its new submerged course is topped by another access track to garages.  Oddly, above where the confluence occurs there was a large puddle (above, lower photo), I did plan to take a slightly closer look but dogs barking on the private land as I approached rather deterred me – a less than intrepid explorer.

This stream ought to have a name now that it has been re-discovered  –  I would suggest the appellation Leamington Ditch for it –It needs to be a Ditch – it is the usual nomenclature for small streams around here.  However, Leamington merely comes from the street it runs parallel to for its short course – so would be happy for others to offer alternatives to whoever the appropriate arbiter for Ditch names.

 

 

 

An finally … thank you to Lawrence Beale Collins of Thames21 for helping me with unpicking the two very different Grove Park Ditches.

Grove Park Ditch – A Quaggy Tributary

As Running Past has noted before, little imagination went into the naming of most of the Quaggy’s tributaries, the notable exception being Mottingham’s Fairy Hall Flow.  Grove Park Ditch is one of those appellations that is lacking in allure, purely functional, mundanely descriptive – although, as we will find, it is in places much more than that.

Grove Park Ditch is a near neighbour of the seemingly no longer flowing Fairy Hall Flow, its source in Lower Marvels Wood is a couple of hundred metres away from where the Flow once babbled through farmland on what is now Beaconsfield Road.

The ‘source’ is in the lovely Lower Marvels Wood, presumably a remnant of the past woods that covered the area now part of the Green Chain Walk.

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The amount of water at the source is impressive, and has eroded a relatively deep channel which was quite a slippery scramble to get down see.  It presumably isn’t the real source; there is a concrete construction around the ‘source’ with a just visible pipe curving off to the east – presumably water is culverted from somewhere else.  There are one or two small ponds marked on Victorian OS maps a little higher up the gently sloping hillside in Marvels Wood – they aren’t marked on modern maps and my limited exploration on a very soggy Sunday morning failed to find any sign of them.

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After the initial erosion from the force of the water from the source, the ‘valley’ soon becomes imperceptible with the Ditch clinging to the southern edge of Lower Marvels Wood, almost hidden from the playing fields it borders.  For a small stream flowing through woodland and a park edge, it seems to ‘attract’ a vast quantity of urban debris, if the large pile by the plastics and glass by the traps close to Lambscroft Avenue is anything to go by – this is just before the Ditch is lost to view,

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The ‘Ditch,’ once encased in concrete, heads down the gentle slope, under houses towards the playing fields of Eltham College.  The exact route is unclear; it isn’t marked on old OS maps as a stream.  However, as historical boundaries often followed natural features such as streams, it is quite likely that the original course marked the local government boundary from the highlighted boundary stone (on the map below) until it reached the Quaggy.  During my reconnoitre I didn’t hear the sounds of rushing water emanating from below manhole covers, however, this may have related more to the cacophony of the above ground torrential rain, with one or two thunderous rumbles, drowning out any subterranean sounds.

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Any access to the playing fields of Eltham College (Running Past  has ‘visited’ the former Fairy Hall before) and those of the City of London School is limited, the gates are locked and the borders are patrolled. So it wasn’t possible to see whether there was any above ground evidence of the Ditch, maps suggest there might be, although the satellite view of Google suggests that it is submerged, hidden just beyond the boundaries of cricket pitches.  The maps appear to show another small stream or drainage ditch too.

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The outflow of Grove Park Ditch is a pipe from the wall of the horribly channelised Quaggy – the walls and river bed are concrete and presumably devoid of much life as a result.  As the Quaggy Action Group suggested a decade ago, it is a ‘suitable case of treatment’ of the kind that has enhanced both Chinbrook Meadows and Sutcliffe Park, both visually and in their ability to hold storm flows.  The outflow was easier to see than to photograph from the Green Chain Walk path, although this was largely because of the siling rain when I ‘explored’ for this post.

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While not part of the ‘Ditch’, on the western side of the Quaggy there is modern cartographic evidence of a couple of streams joining the Quaggy from the area around what is now Hadlow College, the Victorian OS map showing just the ponds, however, this too is private land and not accessible to the fluvial flâneur.

 

E Nesbit, The Railway Children and Lewisham

It was a simple street name sign in Grove Park that this post had its origins in …

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Between 1894 and 1899 Edith Nesbit lived at Three Gables in Baring Road – roughly between the Ringway Centre and Stratfield House flats. Grove Park was then a popular middle-class residential area and still with a number of small farms. The home backed onto the railway and there are suggestions that it may have inspired the Railway Children. Three Gables has long gone, although part of its garden is now Grove Park Nature Reserve, but Nesbit’s time there is remembered with a path which forms part of the Green Chain Walk.

There have been suggestions that the character of Albert Perks, played by Bernard Cribbens in the 1970 film version, was modelled on Southern Railway employee, William Thomson, who worked at Grove Park station and lived in Chinbrook Road.

She had moved to Well Hall by the time she wrote ‘The Railway Children’ though, a four-storey house next to the ‘Tudor Barn’, Well Hall House – shown in ‘engraving’ on the information board in, what is now known as, Well Hall Pleasaunce.  Her name is also remebered in an unattractive cul-de-sac between the Pleasaunce and the elevated A2 dual-carriageway leading to a bowling club.

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The backdrop to the children’s novel was a thinly disguised version of the Dreyfus Affair, whilst Nesbit was writing ‘The Railway Children’ Dreyfus had been pardoned, with the acquittal almost coinciding with the publication in early 1906.

I must admit to not having read ‘The Railway Children’ since school and my recollections of it are more shaped by the 1970 Lionel Jeffries film than the book and the current theatre production at the specially built Kings Cross Theatre. The film and play at least, evoke an almost idealised Edwardian rural middle class lifestyle.

The Railway Children Books About Town bench - Greewnwich 2014

The Railway Children Books About Town bench – Greewnwich 2014

Nesbit’s own adult life was very far removed from this; she was one of the co-founders of one of the Labour Party’s forerunners, the Fabian Society and had brief links with Henry Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation, although found it a little too radical for her. Another author with Lewisham connections, David Lodge, covered the period at Well Hall in passing in his biographical novel of H G Wells, ‘A Man of Parts.’ She effectively lived in a ménage-a trois with her husband, Hubert Bland, and his mistress. Nesbit too had numerous affairs, including one with a young George Bernard Shaw.

As for her other Lewisham links, Edith Nesbit lived in several locations in Blackheath, Lewisham and Lee before her stay at Three Gables. The first seems to have been 16 Dartmouth Row, Blackheath (top left photo, below) where she moved in 1879 prior to her marriage to Herbert Bland. They moved to 28 Elswick Road, off Loampit Vale in Lewisham in 1882 (top right) which was recognised as part of Lewisham’s maroon plaque scheme.

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She seems to have spent several years around Lee; the 1891 Kelly’s directory has her husband living at 2 Birch Grove, just off what is now the South Circular. There is also a small park and children’s playground at the corner of Osberton and Leland Roads which bears her name, reflecting the time the she lived in the nearby Dorville Road

Whilst at Three Gables she wrote a couple of children’s books with local connections ‘The Treasure Seekers’ (1898) where the Bastables children’s ‘ancestral home’ was ‘a semi-detached and has a garden, not a large one’ at 150 Lewisham Road, before moving to The Red House in Blackheath in ‘The Wouldbegoods: Being the Further Adventures of the Treasure Seekers’ (1899)’

A quick skim read through on-line finds mentions of The Quaggy and the Lewisham Workhouse (now Hospital) in the ‘New Treasure Seekers’ (1904) concerning attempts to get rid of a Christmas Pudding with an unintentionally soapy taste paid for by subscription by the wealthy folks of Blackheath Park and Granville Park.

Nesbit was important in children’s literature with her biographer, Julia Briggs, suggesting that she was ‘the first modern writer for children’, and credited her with having invented the children’s adventure story – paving the way for the likes for Arthur Ransome’s ‘Swallows and Amazons’ after World War 1 and Enid Blyton (whose life in Shortlands was touched upon in the blog last year) ‘Famous Five’ around 40 years later.

Listed Lewisham – The Excalibur Estate

The Blitz had destroyed thousands of homes in south east London, leaving considerable numbers homeless. One of the responses was the Housing (Temporary Accommodation) Act 1944, which planned to deliver 300,000 prefabricated homes over 10 years, within a budget of £150m. The temporary homes were designed to be quickly put up and last 10 years while more permanent solutions were found. Only half of that number was ever delivered due to a combination of costs being greater than expected and higher than traditional brick homes, and pubic expenditure cuts after 1947.

The old Borough of Lewisham put up 1,610 prefabs by 1948 and a further 1,088 by 1955. While many went on quickly cleared bombsites, parks and open spaces were often used. The sites used for ‘prefabs’ included locations on Blackheath, including Wat Tyler Road, and on the Greenwich Borough side of the ‘Heath, St Germans Place as well as on the open space on Pond Road. A little further away, there were several dozen around the edge of Hillyfields, where they remained until the 1960s.

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The biggest concentration solely in Lewisham was on the edge of Forster Memorial Park, the Excalibur Estate, which was one of the early developments; the 187 two bedroom bungalows were built in 1945-46. The Excalibur homes used the Uni-Seco model which is flat roofed with a timber frame with asbestos within the walls. The Uni-Seco homes average cost was around £1,131 – considerably more than the £500 a home assumptions in the 1944 Act.

Like many of the prefabs it was built by Italian and German prisoners of war from Rommel’s North Africa campaign.

The estate also contains a prefab church, St Mark’s.

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The number of prefab homes from the immediate post-war period is declining rapidly as sites are redeveloped, while Excalibur largely remains, its end is nigh. The homes have outlasted their lives by some margin but would be very expensive to bring up to current standards. Demolition has already started on the eastern side of the estate and other homes have been decanted ready for clearance. New homes were due to start being built at the beginning of 2014, but there now appears to be a large degree of uncertainty as to both the detail of the plans and the timescales.

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The estate is an important piece of 20th Century history and six of the homes have been listed. It is also for three weeks only, home to a ‘pop-up museum’ in one of the empty bungalows.

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As well as providing the opportunity to see what the homes are like inside there are photos of life on the estate as well as prefabs elsewhere in the country.

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There was an even larger prefab development at Grove Park on the borders between the then Borough of Lewisham and Chislehurst and Sidcup Urban District Council with 210 homes on the playing fields at the corner of Marvels Lane and Grove Park Road. These lasted into the early 1960s but there seem to be no remaining photos of them – if anyone can locate any of them let me know and I will pass them on to a local historian.